OPINION

Land redistribution

The decision yesterday by the Ministry of Agricultural Development to freeze fines and their collection from people who have built illegally on forestland until the ratification of the new maps designating which areas can be designated as forests, comes as part of the new forestry law – a law that foresees neither the suspension of demolitions nor the legalization of illegally constructed buildings. The fines’ suspension however does relieve pressure on wrongdoers and the full consequences of the measure will depend on future government policies seeking to balance environmental protection and economic development. It should not escape our attention that the freeze on fines is accompanied by a government decision to step up the redistribution of rural land. The conservative administration aims to redistribute 25 thousand hectares per year over the next four years, compared to an annual average of 7,000 hectares over the previous years. Past experience shows that public interest in land redistribution depends on whether new plots of land are added to the areas that are to be conceded to farmers’ communities. If new plots of land are not included, redistribution plans come to a halt. Therefore, if the government really wishes to accelerate land redistribution, it will come under pressure to declassify areas currently designated as forests and give them away for agricultural use or as pastureland. Pressure from people wishing to develop forestland will intensify. Given that the government is seeking to bolster economic activity, pressure for the inclusion of new land in urban planning and for regulations that make it easier to build outside town-planning contours will also grow. Our pinpointing these parameters does not mean that the government must stop efforts at land redistribution or reject all requests for the declassification of forestland. However, we must keep in mind that these issues invite conflict over incompatible social demands – most of them legitimate. Finding a compromise solution is not always possible, and never easy. Because former governments succumbed to pressure for unchecked development in the past, Greece’s countryside has been damaged and urban centers downgraded. When the authorities finally responded with extreme and inflexible regulations, the result was a rise in illegal construction. What we need is a solution that will find a happy medium between these inconsistent goals and, at the same time, a solution realistic and workable enough to prevent another wave of illegal building.